Santiago Gaspar has always had the skills to be one of the Central Section's best soccer players.
What the Roosevelt High midfielder lacked, however, was the work ethic required to get the most out of his considerable talent on the pitch.
Until this year.
Determined to become a better player and teammate, Gaspar delivered a 35-goal season while leading the Rough Riders to the Central Section Division III championship and a berth in the CIF Southern California Regional.
"I got more disciplined," said Gaspar, The Bee's Boys Soccer Player of the Year. "I was at practice every day, doing the hard work. It transferred into the games. I couldn't have done it without the coaching staff. They were wonderful."
Gaspar saw immediate dividends as he scored twice in Roosevelt's 3-0 season-opening victory over two-time defending Division I champion Buchanan.
"That's when it hit me and my confidence was there," Gaspar said. "Every time I am on the field, I feel like no one can touch me and no one can take the game away. My mentality is there and my heart is there."
He would score 15 goals in the Rough Riders' first 11 games as they got off to a 9-1-1 start.
Then Gaspar turned it up a notch in North Yosemite League play, scoring hat tricks in three of Roosevelt's first four games. He would finish with 17 goals in 10 games to earn NYL Player of the Year honors.
"He was the engine that drove us offensively," Roosevelt coach Joel Munoz said.
"He's someone everyone kind of looked to. He makes everything simple for everyone else. As long as everyone plays their role and we play defense collectively, he gave us a chance to win most games."
The play that perhaps best summed up Gaspar's impact on the Rough Riders' success in a 21-2-3 season came early in the second half of the D-III final against Selma.
With Roosevelt trailing 2-1, he took possession around midfield and raced down the left flank at full speed with the ball under control before unleashing a laser into the far corner to tie the score.
Later, Gaspar's left-footed bender of a corner kick provided the assist on Antonio Valencia's go-ahead goal.
"He can keep his pace at a high rate of speed," Munoz said. "A lot of high school players lose their touch the faster they are going, but he always looks comfortable, even when he has two or three guys on him.
"A lot of his runs start deep within our midfield. He'll set up the run from a little farther back. It's hard for a defense to pick him up because they are focused on the strikers."
Gaspar is headed to West Hills-Lemoore to continue a career that produced 57 goals in three seasons for Roosevelt.
"He is one of a long number of very talented players this school has been fortunate to have," said Munoz, in his 20th year as Rough Riders coach. "His future is bright. As long as he works as hard in class as he does in the field, he'll have some opportunities later."
Player of the Year
The résumé: The North Yosemite League MVP scored 35 goals and contributed "tons" of assists, according to Rough Riders coach Joel Munoz (who doesn't officially keep assist statistics) while leading the Rough Riders to a 21-2-3 record, the NYL title, the school's sixth Central Section championship and a berth in the CIF Southern California Regional. Scored a goal and provided two assists as Roosevelt beat Selma 3-2 for the D-III title. Headed to West Hills-Lemoore after scoring 57 goals in three-year career.